The shortcomings of foreign assistance, the potential of new technologies, and what the First World could learn from the Third.
The Price of Assistance
Even with the stopover in Switzerland, the ride from Dulles Intl. to Jomo Kenyatta was a long one. Somewhere over the Sahara I began to reflect on the project I was embarking upon. As a health worker, I was sent by an international NGO to teach better hygiene practices to those living in Kibera, an informal settlement located in Nairobi, Kenya. Last summer fuel prices were on the rise. The $2,300 price of the plane ticket was shocking. When I was told that the population I would be assisting lived off of a dollar a day I calculated that the same money the NGO spent on my travel could have sustained a Kibera resident for six years. Yes, I possess a few specialized skills. Yes, my experiences and education have given me some understanding about the field of international development. But how much of an impact would I truly make on the people I was so eager to help? I started to evaluate my effectiveness.
Kibera certainly has its share of problems, ranging from weak governance to crippling poverty, but it’s not completely destitute. One prominent feature of the slum is its bustling marketplace. Even though the government does not recognize the settlement, residents are able to live and work in Kibera by exchanging goods and services amongst each other and out of these transactions unofficial institutions are created. How does the informal economy drive indigenous innovation to keep its participants afloat? How effective is it compared to foreign assistance? The answers to these questions could help to define the murky underbelly of globalization. In addition, emerging new technologies have the potential to flattened traditional hierarchies and provide new opportunities that accelerate economic development in impoverished regions around the world.